The rural villages in the western part of Nepal aren’t the best place to be on your period. First of all: you aren’t allowed in the house anymore. And also visiting a temple or school, crossing a bridge, and speaking with men is strictly forbidden when you’re menstruating. Eating meat or dairy products isn’t allowed either, as there’s a fear that these products could be contaminated forever.
Women have to stay in separate clay sheds, which can get very crowded. Sometimes there are ten to fifteen women living together in a space of four square metres. There’s no comfort at all. Even a woollen blanket against the cold is not done. The only thing allowed is a jute mat or burlap. On average, women stay in these huts between four and eleven days. In the meantime, the work in the field continues. Girls who experience their first menstruation stay there for ten to eleven days. Giving birth brings you eleven days of seclusion.
The ancient tradition of chaupadi (also known as cchaupadi) is caused by the Hindu belief that menstruating women are impure. If they touch a man, he’ll get ill, if they touch a cow, it’ll stop giving milk and if they touch a tree, it won’t ever carry fruit anymore. Menstruation is seen as a punishment for all the things women did wrong in their previous lives.
Chaupadi has been forbidden by law since 2005, but still happens in rural areas. Official numbers indicate that every year at least twenty women die because of snake bites, attacks by wild animals and weakness or illness in their isolation. More and more people protest against this tradition of monthly banishment and also international media report on it more. Local women’s groups try to convince the women to stop this practice and regularly sheds are broken down. The men don’t seem to care too much.
In August 2017, Nepal passed a new law criminalising the tradition. Anyone forcing a woman to be kept in chaupadi will risk three months of jail and/or a fine of 3,000 rupees (about 40 euros). This law will come into effect in the summer of 2018. Let’s wait for the first conviction. Various news sources reported that on January 8, 2018, a young woman died as a result of the chaupadi practice. Gauri Bayak, only 21 years old, was found dead by her neighbours inside a smoke-filled menstrual hut in the district of Achham.